By: Eric Greenwood
Island Row is a spastic yet glorious fusion of organic instrumentation and computerized experimentalism and, therefore, an essential addition to your collection. Kristian Craig Robinson A/K/A Capitol K is a human blender of musical ethnicities, ambient soundscapes, glitches, bleeps, and unadulterated pop genius. His songs veer away from anything traditional yet they all possess the essential ingredients for what makes music memorable. Melodies, splintered and lush, permeate Robinson's stuttered, almost frantic arrangements. His attention span seems limited, but his instincts are dead on. There are hundreds of burgeoning underground DJ's chopping up beats and scorching them with computers but few that can parlay such technological skill into unique pop compositions like these.
This version of Island Row is actually a revision, of sorts. Robinson was displeased with the way the original British edition turned out, so he removed a campy Prince cover ("Dance On") and the track "Is It U?", remixed two other tracks, and spliced up the remainder. The result, though much delayed by such petulant perfectionism, is a kaleidoscopic trip through this twenty-six-year-old Brit's dysfunctional brain. The dichotomy of frenetic tension and spiritual calm inherent to the compositions is balanced by the equally dichotomous organic/electronic instrumentation. Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, feedback, samplers, digital processing, keys, and myriad beats loosely tie these tracks together, but the star of the album is Robinson's Dictaphone. He records sounds constantly, chops them up, and then weaves them into the melodies.
You won't be hearing these songs on your local Clear Channel radio station. However, Robinson imbues enough pop finesse into his advancing songwriting skill to separate Island Row from the anonymity of uber-hip DIY RPM bins. The moody, resonant harmonics that open "City" may fool you into thinking you've just popped in a Mogwai album, but the electronic water droplets that flitter into the mix quickly end that fantasy. A concurrent piano line underscores the central melody, played by an heavily treated guitar. Once the syncopated beats kick in, you're hooked. "Pillow" reveals Robinson's pop craftsmanship and unorthodox vocal talents. The beat sounds borderline bossa nova behind an infectious vocal hook. Robinson's voice is high and clean- an honeyed falsetto. Despite the abrupt stops and starts and noisy sound effects, this is pure pop.
"Anon" is not as obvious in its pop sensibility, but it maintains the generally subdued atmosphere through lengthy meanderings and unpredictable interludes. Though more intricate and splintered, "Soundwaves" is still accessible. Robinson's vocals recall Daniel Ash's work with Tones On Tail- breathy and distant. The post-punk bass line reveals Robinson's art punk roots, but the overwhelming abundance of electronics hold the percolating rock at bay. "Capitol Beat Sticky" is both hyper and serene, flipping back and forth between catchy digressions and noisy, skittering runs. The guitar arpeggio that floats in midway sounds otherworldly amidst all the sonic splicing. The prog-ish "Darussalam" wouldn't be out of place in Radiohead's recent setlist, even though it's much denser than anything on either Kid A or Amnesiac. "God Ohm" is the most straightforward of the dance-oriented tracks.
The wet beauty of "Breakers" encapsulates Robinson's penchant for paradoxically lucid paranoia. The saturated beats make the transitions so smooth. "Heat" is another pop confection. The beats literally rain on the lightly strummed guitars, and Robinson's vocal melody is so strangely formed, as to serve as merely another instrument. He picks the oddest notes to sing, and his inflection is truly bizarre. Such oddities are very telling of Robinson's style and make Island Row sound supremely distinctive. This is not the most groundbreaking electronic fusion record ever recorded, but it’s up there. The sounds are all vaguely familiar on some level, but you can sense that Robinson is just getting started. To have produced a sophomore album this diverse and accomplished is nothing to scoff at. So, when you see Capitol K on the spine of the disc in the record shop, the odds are in your favor that it's an essential purchase.